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Apparently it’s yearly review time here at work and upon looking at my bank statement this morning, something was peculiarly different. Moments later, my (good, non-emoticon) boss called me up and informed me that my performance over the last year earned me a raise (this is normal, I think pretty much everyone gets one).

It’s almost as if they could hear my soul dying from inside my cubicle and decided to do something about it.

But how much is this raise? Is it enough to raise me out of my enraged and depressed funk in which I’m pretty sure I am wasting my youth, energy, and, ultimately, my life? Is it enough for me to rethink this office job stuff?

No. It’s a $24 bump per paycheck. $12 a week. Not even enough to push me into the coveted four-figure paycheck. In other words, it is the most demoralizing raise ever. It is two movie tickets (no popcorn, no sodas). It is FIVE PERCENT of my monthly student loan bill. Most importantly, it does not compensate for the extra work, effort, time, and energy I’ve had to put into my job.

And did I mention that we’re only allowed one raise per year? And that my job has no upward mobility? This is the last bump I’ll see for a while.

The good news is, though, that it serves as a kind of wake up call for me. Even if I am rewarded for my hard work at the office, the reward only further reflects everything else about my job. Four percent of a pile of shit shit is a marginally bigger pile of shit. If I’m going to be poor anyway, shouldn’t I be poor and happy?

I mean, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. Twelve extra dollars a week is $12 I didn’t have before. But at the same time, it makes me feel like Sisyphus, if Sisyphus was given a spreadsheet to fill out and each time he finished it he was handed a blank spreadsheet.

I think a big change might be coming – I’m just not quite sure how to act yet. Either way, I’m planning on taking a week off from work to simply calm down and evaluate things. Who knows, I might even write a less self-centered and money-focused whiny blog entry. We can only hope for the best.

I’m trying out a new little feature today – a little bulleted entry that’s kind of like a to-“done” list of things that affected my day. Let me know how it goes. Is it too boring, indulgent, or both? Let’s hope for both!

  • I finally walked up to Guy Talking On His Cell Phone At The Gym. I walked up to him and I didn’t say, “Please don’t talk on your cell phone,” or “Your constant cell phone usage ruins my cardio workouts at least three days a week,” or, “The gym is for working your body, not your mouth.” But, no, I walked up to him, looked him in the eyes, and simply said, “CELL PHONE” and walked away. He then made a couple of lame comments about me to his friend but I take comfort in the fact that he didn’t have the nuts to walk up to me and say anything to my face. He’s in the running for a Douchebag of the Year Award, no question (that’s going to be another new blog feature, maybe).
  • I got in separate fights with both of my parents over politics today. I don’t like this. We’re all stubborn, and, although my parents raised me with Southern values, I was raised, geographically, in Boston. You know what that means. I know they’re wiser than me and in a way know better, but I also know that I truly feel and know what I feel and know. Mostly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about these issues with my parents and that I should have restrained myself. Mostly, it’s taking every inch of my will (will comes in inches, right?) not to have BROOD officially endorse Barack Obama in the coming days. We’ll see how this pans out – I also don’t want to bring politics to my blog just like I don’t want to talk with my parents about politics. Kind of.
  • Both of the above points obviously stem from how badly my job has been going since the big merge on January first. I no longer have time to rest or think or even take lunch (or write regular blog updates! Or write in general!) during the day, and the whole time I’m bitter about the fact that I’m working with twice the book list, twice the bosses, and the same exact pay. I need something. I shouldn’t be crying every day when I get home from work and I shouldn’t be lashing out at my parents or even at Guy Talking On His Cell Phone At The Gym, even though I’m somewhat sure he should be shot to keep his chatty genes from being passed on. I just feel very enraged these days. Anyone have New York City job leads? I’ll try anything that involves keeping most my clothes on. I’m serious. I know a few of you will write (maybe both my dad and Ben’s dad) and tell me it’s not so bad, but I also know that if I fill in one more fiscal spreadsheet, I will lose a part of my soul. I need something different. I need to lose a different part of my soul for a change.
  • Being enraged also means being emotional in general. Today I came home from work and found that Ben had cleaned the kitchen. I don’t mean that he simply washed the dishes, I mean that he cleaned even the inside of the refrigerator and, therefore, emptied about a dozen terrifying old leftover Tupperware horrors that have been sitting there for months. These horrible leftovers were so terrifying that I’m not sure I could have done it without crying and jumping up and down a little in that grossed out way. But as you can guess, when I walked into the kitchen after work today I cried. Because I am an emotional wreck with a great boyfriend.

I’m not much into New Years resolutions, but I am into best-of end of the year lists. I mean, really into them. Not only do I keep detailed lists of what I read and listen to each year, but I also read everyone else’s top-ten lists and make my own. What’s the greater purpose of this, you ask? Well, I say, let’s not run around asking questions.

Since I don’t read brand-new published-in-2007 books all year long, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite books and mention a few books you should stay away from at all costs. The complete list of what I read this year is down below – it’s shorter than most years because I spent a solid three months at the beginning of the year reading nothing but short essays. Not that I’m making excuses.

This might also be a good time to tell you about my favorite book website, GoodReads. If you’re on it, you should be my friend. And if you’re not on it and like reading (and making exhausting lists) you should join.

Also – if you read something awesome this year, leave me a comment about it so I can get my hands on it.

Without further delay…

The best book I read in 2007 that was published in 2007:
Like You’d Understand Anyway by Jim Shepard.

Runner up: No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. So I thought the movie that she wrote and directed You, Me, and Everyone We Know to be completely unwatchable. And I found her author photo to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. And when I was feeling cynical, I found her stories to be trying too hard and a little too focused on some sort of weird Daddy issues she might have. HOWEVER (and this is a big however) she has an unbelievable ability to describe small moments and tiny emotions. It is amazing and it is worth reading through all of the other stuff for these alone. Ignore the Aimee Bender weirdo quirky Hipster-Realism stuff and focus on the little bits of humanity.

The best book I read in 2007 regardless of when it was published: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I had read most of Hemingway’s popular stuff over the years but hadn’t ever picked up this one. I read it while Ben was gone on a business trip and it might have been the most intense, weirdly isolating three days of my life. His writing style makes me want to give up. I sobbed while reading the last page – and I don’t usually sob over anything. I’m more of a whimperer.

Runner up: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Ben and I have been nothing less than evangelical about making our friends, family, and strangers read this book. I’ve talked to weirdos about it on the train. Ben has mailed copies across the country. We should really make a pamphlet that outlines the major points about why this book will make you love the people you love just a little bit more than you thought you could. I don’t know anyone who has taken more than 48 hours to read it.

The other runner up: West With the Night by Beryl Markham. I love reading about totally badass women and I love adventure stories. And I love beautifully written prose. I just wish I had read this book when I was 12 – it might have formed me into a better person. Buy it for your daughters and nieces. Hell, buy it for your sons and nephews.

The worst book I read in 2007 that was published in 2007: Flower Children by Maxine Swann.

The worst book I read in 2007 regardless of when it was published:
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This is also the runner up. That’s how bad it was.

The complete list (highlighted books link to my blog reviews of them)

mcgyverThe weather in Queens isn’t pretty today. The meteorologists are calling it a “wintery mix” but that is nothing more than a blatant euphemism for, “like hell, if hell weren’t so hot. You will definitely fall on your ass at least once.” The stuff falling from the sky has been changing every hour or so – we’ve seen snow, sleet, freezing rain, regular rain, ice and everything in between. There are a good two inches of a substance on the sidewalks that I would describe as ice soup.

We walked like lame, miserable penguins to the gym and then walked like lame miserable tired penguins home from the gym. And just as I was about to comment on how glad I was to be inside for the night, we both realized that we didn’t have anything to eat. Sure, we could call a delivery boy, but we’d probably have to tip him $20 and look directly into his sad eyes, which would have inevitably been creepily frozen open.

Perhaps, I thought, we would starve.

But, thinking back to the sexy tight-jeaned hero of my youth, MacGyver, I was inspired – MacGyver, who could build a bomb out of a pen cap, a water hose, a lamp stand and a piece of chewing gum! MacGyver, who could do anything he set his mind to as long as he had his Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape! This icy dinner-less situation was my own personal Murdoc, and I would hunt down a solution to the problem just as McGyver hunted down international assassins.

I started through the cabinets, the awesome MacGyver theme song running through my head. I found the only real protein we had in the house: frozen shrimp pushed up in the back of the freezer. I went through our dried goods and rustled up some whole wheat pasta.

In a large saucepan, I did what any good Louisiana girl would and started up a roux – I didn’t have any butter (and like cooking healthy) so I used two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and two table spoons of flour. I browned the oil and flour while whisking it on medium heat. Then I added 1 and 1/4 cups of 1% milk and kept whisking, until it was as thick and smooth as McGyver’s silky mullet.

To the white sauce I added a small chopped white onion and a well-drained can of diced tomatoes. To season it, I added a small bay leaf, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. After letting it simmer for about 15 minutes (to cook the onions and mix the flavors) I added 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and the shrimp. (I know you’re not supposed to mix seafood and cheese, but I’ve seen Red Lobster do it and, obviously, The Lobster is the leading authority on cooking seafood.)

I added the pasta to the sauce, and I was done. I didn’t even have to use chewing gum.

Meanwhile Ben, who was acting as Macgyver’s closest friend Pete, created a delicious salad with vegetable odds and ends he found. Within 20 minutes, we were sitting in front of a full hearty and healthy meal. It wasn’t half bad.

The best part of the experience wasn’t the food at all. It was using my analytical thinking and my creativity in order to forge something unique yet functional. Its simple, obvious moral was perhaps even as simple and as obvious as the morals that MacGyver learned at the end of each episode.

mighty mouseNow, I don’t want to get into a big pissing contest with anyone about whose job makes them feel the most worthless. But I do want to say this: I spent the morning frantically tracking down two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes for my boss.

Have you ever had to explain to a complete stranger that you don’t have a superhero/rodent fetish? Well, I’m getting paid approximately $11 an hour (after taxes) to do so.

Me: Hi, I’m looking to rent two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes. I have neither a rodent nor superhero fetish. It’s for a sales meeting.

Costume Shop Lady: A sales meeting?

Me: More specifically, it’s for a sales meeting I didn’t plan. They always have silly themes. No weird fetishes here.

Costume Shop Lady: Yes, we have one available – it includes the head, hands, cape, and spandex.

Me: I actually need two. I need Mighty MICE. And I swear to you on everything holy that the second one isn’t for my significant other. We just like holding hands and watching movies.

Costume Shop Lady: We only have one. Why in the world would we have two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes??

Me: Why would you even have ONE?? Freaks!!!

It doesn’t help that this task was given to me by my new boss – the one prone to marking all emails with the high-important red exclamation point regardless of their importance level. Here’s a timeless and fool-proof business tip for managers and bosses: if you have a new assistant and are trying to make her feel welcomed, useful, and like a human being with real hopes and dreams, do not ask her to track down two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes. Or any sort of other costume. For at least a couple of weeks.

Well, I have to go now and make some more important business calls and try to talk over the laughter of my cube mate while I ask questions like, “Is the spandex one size fits all?” and “What are the mouse hands made out of?” and “Didn’t I already explain that I’m not into weird mouse stuff?”

december roseI woke up to what I would term Monday morning suicide weather conditions. Weak, matte yellow sunlight seeping into the room. Drizzling haze of freezing rain. Cold, muddy stale air. An entire week of office work rolled out in front of me like moldy motel hallway carpeting.

I made my way to the kitchen to quiet our early morning kitty alarm with some Fancy Feast and looked out into our “backyard” – a 10X10 back alley area we don’t even have access to.  It is overgrown with dead weeds and dead brambles and features a deflated garden hose. It’s a study in dead foliage and shades of grey.

And there it was, clinging to a bit of crappy chain-linked fence in a crappy New York alley – a huge, bright, yellow rose in full bloom. It was like it was the only thing in the universe that didn’t get the memo that it was a shitty Monday morning in mid-December.

I swear to you, it was glowing with life – surrounded by seeping cracked concrete and cigarette butts and peeling paint –  totally unconcerned with its inappropriate location or the inappropriate season.

As I said, I don’t have access to the alley, but I tried to take a picture by leaning out the open window. Although couldn’t capture the detail of the flower, I hope I did capture the contrast it made – or, at the very least, that there was actually a rose blooming outside of my window in Queens two weeks from Christmas.

I suppose I could start extrapolating this small, uplifting event into my overall outlook. Perhaps, I could say, this rose represents what my attitude should be at work or how I should look at life on even the bleakest of days and during my most trying and pessimistic times. That we are all roses, reaching up our chain-linked fences of life – nurtured by littered city dirt and nibbled upon by rats! That even in the darkest winters of our despair, we can blooom!

But instead, I think I should leave it as a yellow rose in my back alley that made me feel a bit better all day long. You should have seen it – I swear it was giving off its own light.

Also – I think “December Rose” would be a really great name for an “accidental” baby girl born to a middle-aged couple. Or the name for the debut album of a pop group made up of has-been female vocal artists who are planning a comeback. Or my new signature scent.

cougarOne of my favorite daydreams involves getting attacked by a cougar – it’s pieced together from cougar attack stories I read once in a book I found in a gas station on an Indian reservation, called True Cougar Attacks or something, which stated in the introduction that cougars rarely attack people, but when they do, it’s usually petite female joggers. I find the daydream really calming and satisfying for some reason.

In the daydream, I’m jogging along the Clark Fork river in Montana when I hear this clicking sound behind me. It’s strange enough that I stop running to check if there’s anyone behind me – but each time I turn around there’s nothing but the still grass and still trees and the slow-flowing river. Even though I don’t see anything, though, both my above-average perception that something’s amiss coupled with my almost-animal-like connection with Nature alert me to an unseen predator.

I jog on, a bit faster. This time when I hear the clicking, I whip around and see the cougar behind me – the clicking is the sound of his claws on the rocky beaten path. The beast – 110 pounds of muscle and sinew – springs at me through the air, and the moment lasts forever. NO – rather, the moment is timeless, something that is always happening somewhere and something that has happened for thousands of years past and that will happen for thousands of years in the future: the predator and its prey. Survival. The freaking circle of freaking life.

The cougar easily knocks me off my feet and – as they often did in the stories from the gas station Indian reservation true stories of cougar attacks book – bites down on the back of my head with its deadly fang-filled jaw. Like one woman in the book, I actually hear things in my head crushing and crunching.

But, on another, deeper level, everything is quiet. I hear a magpie in a nearby fir, rustling its feathery wings. I look down the sloping path to the river and see a pair of salmon silently slide by, perfectly in tandem with a gliding cloud reflected in the water’s surface. I see a caterpillar on the tip of a blade of grass, blindly reaching for the sky. I see a heavy branch a foot away, bleached and cracked, seemingly waiting.

I even see the beauty in the cougar – she smells of musk and earth and heat. She is beautiful! I am not terrified, even as my ear drum explodes and even as I feel her needle claws taking hold of my soft middle. Mostly, though, I am excited to test my physical and mental prowess out in the real world – away from artificiality of human civilization.   

I proceed to reach up to the cougar’s face and gouge out her eyes. It’s enough for her to release my head and give me a chance to pick up the heavy branch that I had meditated on a moment before. I beat the cougar to death, and then rest curled next to her still-warm body. Perhaps – and this is only when I really milk the daydream – I can feel a bit of the cougar sprit enter my own as it leaves the shell of her former body.

Oh – and then I drag the cougar’s corpse into town. I’m all covered in crackled dried blood and missing an ear, maybe. Everyone is shocked, both at what they see and how at peace I am.

At the ensuing press conference, which takes place from my hospital bed, I try to explain my deep connection to Mother Nature to the reporters, though no one seems to understand, what with their fancy automobiles and frozen dinner lives. I try to explain that the animal was not evil, but merely driven mad by the growing human presence in her natural habitat. Much like the coach of a winning Superbowl team, I am very respectful toward the loser and her efforts.

“She was a beautiful creature,” I’d say, “Tough and wild and free like no other thing I have ever encountered. It killed me to gouge out her eyes, beat her to death, and drag her into town, but she and I both understood it had to happen. She and I both understood the importance of survival. I have kept her glorious pelt and will wear it always.”

Of course, in another manifestation of this daydream, I just turn to the closest news camera, my head stitched from my chin to my forehead, and say, “Fuck cougars.”

I suppose I should be having daydreams about helping people or being president or something. But I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with this one.

We woke up this morning to the season’s first snow, which always feels a little special even if it gets extraordinarily un-special by February. Especially in the city, snow for me serves as a little reminder that nature is still out there, somewhere, even if I forget sometimes.

Ben and I bundled up in our hats and winter coats and boots (as with every single other winter, I seemed to have retained only one of my two gloves from last year) and headed to the grocery store. The city noises were muffled for once, the gross sidewalks were blanketed over, and our ever-present loud and gossipy neighbor was tucked away indoors. Christmas trees, dusted with snow, were on sale on the corner. Even my cold black heart quivered for a moment in a small display of holiday-related emotion.

Another one of my favorite dishes growing up, ginger beef and broccoli is a simple take on a Asian stir-fry. I like it because it only involves two ingredients that I don’t always have around the house and it take maybe 20 minutes to make. That’s enough time to add some homemade spring rolls or eggdrop soup to the meal if you’d like.

Also this weekend, I’ve been working on a recipe index for my site. It’s linked at the top of the page and should be an easier way to find the food-related posts you’re looking for.

Ginger Beef with Broccoli

1/2 lb. of sirloin
4 c. fresh broccoli in bite-sized pieces
1 wedge of fresh ginger, the size of a quarter
2 t. cornstarch mixed with 2 t. water
Dash pepper
2 T. canola oil
2 c. chicken stock or water

Marinade for beef:

3 t. cornstarch
2 t. light soy sauce (I use low salt.)
2 t. sherry or dry white wine
1/4 t. sugar
1 t. canola oil

  • Slice beef into thin strips and add marinade – perhaps a few hours before dinner. Bring the beef up to room temperature before you throw it in the pan.
  • Wash broccoli and remove tough outer layer on stems. Slice stems paper-thin and divide flowerets into small sections
  • Smash wedge of ginger.
  • Mix cornstarch, water and pepper in a little bowl. Set aside.
  • Using a high flame, heat a medium sauce pan and 1 T. of oil and ginger. Add broccoli and stir a couple of minutes; add stock and cover 6 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Heat pan and add 1 T. of oil. When pan is very hot, add beef and flatten against sides of pan. Chow for a minute or two, or until beef is almost cooked. Add broccoli and stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook until sauce thickens.
  • Broccoli should be bright green. This recipe can be used with other vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, Chinese cabbage, or kohlrabi.
  • Serve over hot rice.

We live in dark times. And nothing makes me more convinced of this than the escalating use and growing acceptance of smiley faces in correspondence.

My new boss, who I’ve decided to dislike even though I’ve never met or spoken to her, and who is probably a really nice person who I will never give a chance, can’t seem to send an email without several emoticons beaming out from between her sentences and gluttonous number of exclamation points. U R 2 NICE!!! 🙂 she wrote in her first email to me, making me wonder how I could “B 2 NICE” when I was in fact 2 shocked 4 words.

Sure, I will pardon the stray or well-used emoticon. I will pardon emoticons that are produced by the very young or very old. I will even pardon emoticons in forum responses and short virtual notes. But emoticons are a slippery slope of weird facial expressions, and, like most indulgences in life, they should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

One day you might find yourself adding a single smiley face to the end of an email in order to cement your tone. But the next day you might, like my new boss, be wholly unable to go three lines in an email without breaking out the super smiley or the winky-smiley, all garnished with splashes of exclamation points and ellipses. It will be mere days before you find yourself replacing words with numbers – like some1 and 2day – and mere days after that before you are a homeless heroin fiend, the kind of person who coughs without covering their mouth or doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Is it really that hard to express yourself clearly with actual words? Must we rely on weird yellow hieroglyphs, which are totally so 5,000 years ago? There are lots of words in this language and — surprised emoticon! — many of them express emotion. In fact, words can even be strung together in certain sequences that imply very specific tones and shades of meaning. For example, do I need to put a 😡 here for your to understand how I feel on the subject? Or do you get it?  

To prove my point further, let’s take a look at how a classic author has survived without using emoticons. Would timeless words from the past be even more powerful and moving with emoticons?

Let’s try the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times 😀 it was the worst of times 😦 it was the age of wisdom 💡 it was the age of foolishness 😛 it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity 😕 it was the season of Light 😎 it was the season of Darkness 😥 it was the spring of hope 😆 it was the winter of despair 😦 we had everything before us 😀 we had nothing before us  we were all going direct to Heaven 😮 we were all going direct the other way 👿 “

(Hm. I have to admit even I’m a little surprised that there’s an emoticon for “incredulous.”)

 Yes, you could argue that emoticons clarify tone, which is sometimes hard to convey over short business emails. But I still think that the vast majority of the time it’s a crutch that is for the most part repetitive. More than that, though, I think that they are often not used sincerely. Who knows, though, maybe my defense against my new boss should be to honestly use emoticons in my emails. They would look something like this:

 Attached is the spreadsheet you requested. 😐

 Or:

No, U R 2 NICE!!! 🙄